I can't believe this race has already come and gone! I've been not-so-patiently waiting for the start of this race since last year, when I was introduced to the unsupported ultra endurance cycling scene. I had watched the movie Inspired to Ride, which documented the 2014 Trans Am Bike Race and that triggered a mild obsession that led to me devouring countless Youtube videos, articles, and documentaries pertaining to any other ultra cycling events. In fact, I was so anxious to get my name on the roster for SM1K (Steens Mazama 1000) that I was surprised when I wasn't the first one on the list! I had been consistently checking the Facebook page and website waiting for registration to open so I could finally make my entry official.
Since this was my first ultra endurance event I certainly made plenty of mistakes that I've learned from. However, I know this sport will constantly keep you on your toes and teach you new lessons, so I figured keeping a blog could be a fun way to document these experiences and events. Hopefully some of this information can also become useful to anybody else who may be interested in unsupported ultra endurance cycling!
Morning of (Friday, July 6th):
The race started at 8am on the east side of the Tilikum Bridge in Portland, I woke up at 5:30am and biked over to My Fathers Place (a breakfast place) where I met with my family to eat as much food as I could. Additionally, I ordered some extra hash browns to stuff in my frame bag, it sure didn't look appetizing squishing it all together to fit, but they stayed with me as a backup calorie source for close to 400 miles of the race! After breakfast, coffee, and a short paparazzi session from my mom, I rode over to the start line which was no more than 10 minutes away. The start was nice and low key with riders, family, and friends just hanging out and chatting, additionally Maria Schur was generously handing out baked good (sorry I didn't take any Maria, I was stuffed!). I was relatively surprised I didn't have race day jitters or nerves like I typically do before running race, I was just excited to get on the bike and start an adventure!
First Day (Friday, July 6th):
There was a neutral roll out at the start as we left downtown Portland, so everybody stayed together for the most part until were around the I 205 bike path. I had no idea what to expect from the start so I planned on staying towards the front, I was interested to see what type of pace would be set by the riders who wanted to take the lead. Unfortunately, my bladder had other plans! I had to pull off before we got to Carver to find a tree to hide behind, once I was back on the bike I promptly hit a red light and frustratingly watched as everybody disappeared in to the distance. The light turned green and I bumped up the pace a little bit to start catching up, this can't be the point where I already lose the leaders!
Fortunately, I was slowly able to reel people in and finally caught up with Dennis Hahn and Ben Colwill who were sharing the lead riding along the picturesque North Fork Reservoir. This was a really nice but short section to ride along, with a quiet road and beautiful clear reservoir snaking along to the right of us. I was already warm and the water was incredibly tempting, which made me laugh thinking about how the race had just begun and I was already dreaming about a cold water reprieve. Once we hit the Clackamas Highway Ben took the lead for a handful of miles before he abruptly slowed for a moment due to a bee scare (it ended up flying inside his jersey!). Fortunately he wasn't stung and he joked for me to keep my jersey zipped up as I rode up along side him and swung in to the lead around 50 miles in. Once in the lead I instinctively increased the pace a little bit. Knowing that there were incredibly strong riders right behind me, I figured a steady pace would be a necessity to maintain the position I was in.
Rolling through Ripplebrook and Breitenbush in to Detroit Lake was one of my favorite moments of the race. I absolutely love riding through "tree tunnels", where you're surrounded by lush forest on both sides with the additional benefit of bending roads and rolling hills to keep your mind present. Along with the beauty of the environment there was a humorous absurdity to this section as the roads near Bagby and Breitenbush are not only heavily potholed cratered, but also contained swarms of butterflies that I initially thought were bunches of leaves being tossed around by the wind. So this lead to me dodging the ditches in the road, while simultaneously being slapped in the face periodically by little fluttering wings.
Dennis Hahn had caught up to me just as I had mistakenly started riding down a gravel path that we were told we could bypass (whoops), due to the path being overgrown. Fortunately he was generous enough to stop and point out we could continue along the highway, so I was saved from some unnecessary bushwhacking. We rode together to the Detroit Lake mart where Dennis stopped to order some food and I scoured the place for snacks and drinks to throw on the bike for a quick in and out. My primary goal was to stay on the bike as much as possible, which meant supply stops as quick as possible, eating while riding, and short rest breaks (which certainly caught up to me later on).
From Detroit Lake I rode a rather rough 55 miles in to Sisters where my stomach was chastising me for my Detroit Lake Chaco Taco indulgence. I decided to make that quick stop in Sisters for a water refill and to pop some Tums, which surprisingly made a huge difference both physically and in turn, mentally. From there I rode in to Bend around 8:30pm where I stopped in a Safeway to grab a quick dinner comprised of a chicken pesto wrap, pasta salad, two bananas, coconut water, and a Naked fruit smoothie. As I was eating I pulled up Trackleaders.com to take a look at everybodys progress. I was happy to see that Dennis had made his goal of getting to Bend before 9pm for food and a shake. However, this also made me anxious due to the fact that I felt like I took forever while in the store! With Dennis in town and Ben Colwill rolling in, I scarfed my food and decided it was time for me to get moving.
I turned on my helmet headlight as I rolled out of the Safeway, slightly excited about the prospect of riding in to the night. My original goal for the race was to try and take my sleep breaks during mid day (if I could find a good shaded area). In doing so I wouldn't be riding during the hottest time of the day, and then I'd be actively riding and staying warm during the coldest parts of the night. However, I didn't have any intention of sleeping during the first day or night. Based upon how last years race went, where Kraig Pauli rode an insanely long duration without sleep (~50 hrs?!), I assumed this race would most likely be be one of attrition - the one who could battle sleep exhaustion best held the strongest chance of winning. In which case I felt a first night sleep would be a waste of time for me, so long as I was riding efficiently. However, this didn't go quite to plan because I found myself getting tired pretty early in to the night. I was slowly edging towards a new territory of exhaustion for myself both physically and mentally, which was really going to catch up to me later in to the race.
By 12:10am I was 238 miles in and I had just reached the town of Brothers where there was a rest area off the highway. I stopped in to the restroom for a quick break and a spot to start throwing on my warmer gear in preparation for the chilly night. However, since this wasn't a community restroom, I suddenly realized I had my own safe and warm (although definitely not ideal) spot to take a quick power nap. So, I attempted to! I took off my jersey and shorts to allow them to dry a little bit, then then laid down on my mat with my paper thin wind jacket wrapped around my upper legs and torso. What I didn't count on (but should have known) was the fact that there would be a handful of obnoxious flies buzzing around me. Additionally, I laid as close to the door as possible in an effort to stay as far away from the toilet as possible. However, the chilly night air was blowing right under the door and directly against my back. With the combination of a cold breeze and buzzing insects, I accepted the fact that sleep wasn't going to happen. I packed up, and hit the road as quick as possible, wasting about 15 minutes time.
As I rode away from the rest area, I immediately noticed a blinking red light ahead of me. Dammit! I knew Ben and Dennis were in Bend at the same time that I was, but I had no idea how close they may have been. I gambled with my time in attempt to take a power nap, and ended up wasting that precious time while receiving no rest in return. I immediately settled in to a comfortably hard pace with hopes that I could slowly reel in this blinking red light. As I was slowly catching up I noticed the rider had a headlight mounted to their helmet since they would be looking from side to side, sweeping their beam of light along the brush to the side of the highway. This gave me hope that the unknown rider ahead was potentially looking for a spot to bivy, seeking rest like I had. With renewed motivation I finally rode up to the mystery cyclist about 50 minutes later, only to find out that I wasn't chasing Ben or Dan.
At least, that's what I thought. Upon looking back at the Trackleaders replay and the Strava flyby, Ben did end up passing me during my prior rest attempt. So, this mystery rider clearly was Ben (I haven't confirmed with him personally, though)! However, for some reason, I was convinced that this cyclists wasn't in the race. It was dark so I couldn't discern the face, and I could only see an outline of the bike, but no positive identifiers. So, with that lack of a positive identity paired with my sleep exhaustion, I had somehow convinced myself that this was coincidentally another cyclist that was out riding at 1:00am (VERY coincidental), or that, "Hey! Maybe they're doing a paper route, or commuting!" (said my brain, lacking its usual critical thinking).